Lest We Not Forget the L Word - Language
By Dr. Sharroky Hollie, Executive Director, The Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learniing
Equal to the emphasis on cultural behaviors is validating and affirming your students' home languages. In some ways, we, as culturally responsive educators, can be overly focused on cultural behaviors. We cannot forget that CLR stands for culture and language responsiveness. When I began doing professional developments in CLR years ago, most of the time and focus was on language, in large part due to the now infamous media-hyped Ebonics Controversy in 1998. Over time, though, schools became less interested in home languages because of persistent disproportionalities around discipline and special education issues, which naturally linked to cultural behaviors. But forgetting or minimizing language is a mistake in the framework of linguistic responsiveness. Here are three reasons why:
- Language is the most integral aspect of cultural identity. There is no aspect of our culture that is more personal, identifying, and intimate than our home language.
- Similar to culture, we come to school with our home language in-tact. There is nothing wrong, incorrect, or improper about our home languages. Put another way, there is nothing to correct or fix. Our home language is acceptable just the way it is.
- Linguistic situational appropriateness or "bilingualism" is the goal. We all need to know how to speak and write in academic language when appropriate. But not at the expense of losing our home language or understanding situational appropriateness with the languages we use.
How do we, then, validate and affirm the home languages of our students? Just like with culture, it starts with recognizing our linguistic biases, prejudices, and ignorance. When was the last time judgement, bias, or ignorance was your first thought when you heard someone speak?
After recognizing our own biases, we then have to recognize the language varieties in our classrooms, which include accepted languages (traditional foreign languages, such as Spanish) and unaccepted languages (those deemed non-standard, such as African American Vernacular English). With the linguistic recognition comes the responsibility to not be deficit when our students use their home languages in linguistically inappropriate ways, to use their languages to build rapport and relationships, and to teach them in ways that honor their languages while at the same time building and bridging them to school and academic language success.
Where are you in your journey to linguistic responsiveness?